Despite some leading bankers’ positive economic outlook for the country this year, they are on guard against the possible negative impact that may arise from the ongoing trade war between China and the US — two of the Philippines’ major commerce partners.
The rosy numbers are just there, with one bank president telling his officers during a recent internal event that President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” projects are fuelling economic growth.
Coupled with the coming midterm elections, they are seeing a boom. One of them wished elections were held annually because money flows like fertile rain falls on election years.
But that is just it. Real boom will still anchor on the world developments in which the Philippines is a tiny dot player.
Tiny as it is, the Philippines is a vital partner to the US in keeping its presence and influence over the region. Great America cannot afford to lose the Philippines or it would have let the country off its grip like it did momentarily when it saw itself losing Europe to Germany and Italy at the onset of the Second World War.
Only when the theaters of war in Europe had begun to clear in its favor, thanks mainly to the help of the former USSR and the major US allies, when the Americans poured back into Asia by way of the Philippines to bring Japan down on its knees.
The US had long made Asia its playground. But US armies lost badly in Vietnam and left Korea divided when the communists — then a threat at the height of the Cold War against the USSR — proved they can win wars and beat even the mightiest of the world’s military powers with poor guns but with great conviction.
But long after the Cold War, the US fought battles somewhere else. These were wars born out of the US’ own seeds. Like the acids and substances it had toyed with which now have become a world menace, the religious anti-communist armies it had created are now fighting a religious war and against the US itself.
While the US was busy keeping tabs of oil-rich countries, it had left Asia and a sleeping dragon alone. Only that the dragon woke up bigger than everyone had expected it to become.
To the surprise of the US, China rose as a threat to the lone super power nation.
Former US President Barrack Obama’s so-called “pivot to Asia” came too late. He was too busy fighting wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan that he failed to arrest the dragon’s growth.
China is now flexing its economic and military muscle in the region. That is needed if it wants to protect its own economic growth. Majors powers — past and present — did the same in different forms and approaches.
But there is no stopping China now.
While the Philippines is taking a strong stance against China’s encroachment of its waters, it cannot help itself stand up against the region’s top power like it had failed to stop the US then from establishing its presence right on its soil through the military bases and its meddling in politics.
It was for this that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently paid President Duterte a visit where he promised military support to the Philippines should a war break out between the Philippines and China.
But what war?
President Duterte had said he will not go to war with any country. Not with China, not with anyone.
We have heard all these before. Pompeo was all hubris when he raised yet another of the imaginary wars of the US when it is clear that his country only wants back its former unimpeded access to trade routes it used to have.
Pompeo also could not brandish US military power when its soldiers are now thinly scattered all over the world where the US has interests in. It could not afford to go to war against China which has millions of soldiers at its disposal.
Unlike before when the US was considered the Philippines’ savior, Pompeo’s offer of protection to the Philippines when it is not needed apparently did not sit well with the military.
It now wants a review of the country’s Mutual Defense Agreement with the US.
It will take time but the US should realize that times have changed. It no longer has a strong grip on Asia.
The balance has tilted.